No Chances in the Early Days of the "Second-Chance Society"

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As reported on 2ch’s Itai News Blog, Kinki University in Osaka is telling juniors they must take a job right outside of graduation in the traditional “shinsotsu saiyou” (新卒採用) system. Why? “Because there are no second chances.” (「2度とチャンスはありません。」) What about becoming a freeter? “Your life will come to nothing.” (「フリータやニートになっては,人生台無しです。」) Surely, waiting to apply a year or two after college, you could still get a job based on your qualifications, right? “Dead wrong. Society will not accept you. Why? Because those who did not start working right outside of graduation are leftovers and defective merchandise.” (「卒業してからでも大卒の資格で何とかなるわ…と思ったら大間違いです。 社会は受け入れてくれません。 何故なら,新卒で就職出来ていない人は落ちこぼれであり,欠陥品だからです。」)

All of the 2ch commenters of course agree with this harsh analysis, and the message does not conflict with the standard understanding of Japanese education/employment systems. Let’s face it: Perfectly ordered society and second-chances are opposites. The only way to enforce order is to guarantee that those going around the determined path will be permanently punished. The kid doesn’t even get the chance to cry “wolf” the first time? Problem solved. Taking a year off to study for Tokyo University exams is one thing, but taking a year off to think about what you would like to do for the rest of your life… might as well be treason.

As much as the post-Bubble period was host to greater “Americanization” of the economy, the rigid employment system is facing no serious challenge. In fact, with more and more companies creating two distinct classes of “regular” and “non-regular” workers, the shinsotsu system becomes crucial for determining who gets to join the upper middle classes and who gets to receive the same limp salary for 30 years — within the same companies, even. Successfully making it to a four-year university in the first place means you have access to a possible corporate track job, and clearly, Kinki U. does not want to see their young get swept out into the harsh winter colds from which there is no return.

One of Prime Minister Honest Abe’s big ideas for Japan is the “second chance initiative” for failed businesses. Students, however, may not be afforded that luxury. At least they will know at 22 whether their lives are total failures or not. Most people have to wait 40 years to find that out on their own.

W. David MARX (Marxy)
November 22, 2006

Marxy wrote a lot of essays back on his old site Néomarxisme. This is one of them.

30 Responses

  1. Carl Says:

    Can you tell if the わ at the end of that thought indicate girliness or Osaka-ben-ness?

  2. der Says:

    >>Most people have to wait 40 years to find that out on their own.<<

    Kevin Smith only had to wait 10 years…

  3. ree Says:

    Ouch. This issue has been troubling me for the past few weeks. I just decided to extend my graduation so I can apply as a 新卒。I definitely think this system is restricting, but am trying to see the brighter side…at least I will be trained well despite my humanities background if I do make it to some corporate. On the side note, I even asked the interviewee guy during the job interview about the reason for the 新卒obsession and all he had to say was “なんでだろうね”。Guess it doesn’t really matter to the bucho-san at that point…

  4. Graham Says:

    Prime Minister Honest Abe

    Nice.

  5. Yk Says:

    “Successfully making it to a four-year university in the first place means you have access to a possible corporate track job..”
    applies more to men than to women though..

  6. Your Humble Janitor Says:

    Thats rather harsh and all, but my experience is that once a person is in the corporate track, changing to other corporations is more possible now than ever before. I’m seeing an increasing number of Japanese people switching employers lately.

  7. alin Says:

    the vertical thing is getting relatively stronger, the horizontal looser compared to before, it seems.

  8. yago Says:

    i just find creepy the 2ch system; everybody just writes down its more or less inspired comment, hundreds of people, without reading the others’, no conversation, no debate, people just writing things that no one will read or try to respond.

    I wonder what would happen if a western university would use words like loser 落ちこぼれ or defective 欠陥品 in *any* context. Lawsuits going around for years?

    The case for a minor university like Kinki trying to advice its students to be sensible and understand that hiring practices are what as they are (the whole thing about people taking a year off considered やる気ない it’s very true) is reasonable, but hell, its a university, not a counseling center, and the whole thing about having a kind of society which gives “no second chances” (besides suicide, always so noble, I guess) but not being there any possibility of changing it, a slight chance of building a better society… it’s unthinkable here, I guess. The whole thing about the West being about understanding nature and changing it while the East is about going along with it as it is sound very romantic when you imagine Lao Zi living in harmony with singing birds in a mountain; but it’s actually closer to 28 year old japanese workers neglecting their wives to drink with their bosses.

  9. marxy Says:

    The whole thing about the West being about understanding nature and changing it while the East is about going along with it as it is sound very romantic when you imagine Lao Zi living in harmony with singing birds in a mountain

    Yes, and I think you could easily say that the kind of Plutonic/Marxist stream of “let’s change the world to the ideal state” is a particularly Western idea. Even Confucian ideas of an ideal states are based on getting back to a lost original – not moving progressively (and scientifically) towards a new society never realized before.

    Normal members of Japanese society are going to accept the “system” as it is and work within it. In terms of jobs, I would guess that the employers also don’t quite understand why they have to do it the same way as everyone else, but they feel the threat of failure/punishment is large enough not to really work towards new solutions. And really, the ball is in their court, so why would they break from the standard practices in the first place?

  10. marxy Says:

    Not Pluto as much as Plato.

  11. marxy Says:

    TEST

  12. alin Says:

    >accept the “system” as it is and work within it

    (that’s a certain way to look at things but) i really don’t think it’s the case whatsoever which is what makes the situation infinitely more complex – whether you’re speaking from an enlightened ‘outside’ perspective or totally caught within (the cave). An oversimplified perspective that shortcircuits the discussion to some label like ‘oriental despotism’ or ‘harmonious society’.

    In reality, as yago points out no one really accepts the system.

    The trap here is as Momus often says getting stuck in a despot/conspiracy (despicable by default) vs. obedient (equally despicable) masses scheme resulting in patronising dismissal of the whole thing. What’s most troubling is that the very areas of struggle and resistance and the positive forms they take, which should be the starting point of a sympathetic analysis, are also dismissed.

    I’ll just drop here, again, an idea from deleuze/guattari, in their book about kafka, a subversive writer if there ever was one. now kafka to the effect that he’s subverting or fighting ‘the system’ doesn’t go about shouting fight the power, bomb the castle and screw the judges. instead he proceeds, as they say, by sort of intensifications, accelerations, exagerations etc and the effect is pretty stattering.

    Try to think (positively) of aspects of japanese society/life that contain these kind intensified, accelerated, exagerated aberations from the so called norm and a different picture of a different system will emerge.

  13. alin Says:

    //aberations from the so called norm// –> aberations of the norm

  14. marxy Says:

    Try to think (positively) of aspects of japanese society/life that contain these kind intensified, accelerated, exagerated aberations from the so called norm and a different picture of a different system will emerge.

    Hey, so how did Horie do?

  15. alin Says:

    how did Horie do

    the difference between you and me is sort of like major and minor. it looks like we can never talk the same thing. you see this heavy oppresive layer, which surely exists, and has to be fought at all cost, i tend to dismiss that and look beneath where as far as i’m concerned things start to get far more interesting. you probably see my way of looking as naive i see yours as a sort of dead end/endless loop.

  16. marxy Says:

    I think a concrete case like Horie has pretty broad symbolic meaning through society – even for things “beneath.” Actually, that’s why the government arrested Horie in the first place – to set an example so that he is an exception and not the first in the movement.

    Needless to say. many parts of Japanese society change organically, without the guidance of the top elite. I think there is a philosophical and practical resistance to change, however, which means institutions are not particularly interested in working towards innovation or “progressing” to a better existence. Take the Cool Biz campaign – some picked it up as an authoritarian order from above while others feared the prisoner’s dilemma of going tie-less and showing up at a company to do sales that is still grey wool suits in August.

    In terms of our philosophical mismatch, I tend to take the belief that you cannot understand anything “bubbling under society” without first grasping the nature of the economic/political center. The fringe’s ultimate reception and power to change the whole depends on the interplay between the two forces. A lot of interesting things happen in Japan, but due to the general industrial/economic/political order, these things have less chance at total national impact without being picked up specifically by authorities of some kind.

  17. alin Says:

    >a philosophical and practical resistance to change,

    where ? how ? and what kind of change ? the opposite is equally true as we well know and complain about. what i keep saying is get rid of those big reductive labels. (eg. the tokugawa sakoku was less about resistance to change or xenophobia and more about making the (ex)change profitable and reasonable by one’s own terms, and a lot of change did take place which tends to be ignored)

    >less chance at total national impact without being picked up specifically by authorities of some kind.

    here again we are very limited by a ‘western’ view. take for example someone like jun miura , quite biting and, more importantly, effective criticism with national impact, picked up or supported by “national authorities” yet he’s totally out of our picture.

    authorities of some kind: yes but in this same world there’s a different layer where you’d want an ‘authority of some kind’ to make some sort of hierarchy. (ie. design festa). Now i somehow don’t think a hegelian synthesis between what appears to you as iron fist authority and anarchy is the answer for japan, the two are rather the same.

  18. yago Says:

    I didn’t say that people do not accept the system; I really think, and my experience talking with people tells me, that they don’t really think about it. Change is kind of unthinkable. I never saw anyone actually thinking in abstract terms about the whole thing and what should be done to make it better.

    I mean, the employers that refuse to hire people if they’re not brand new graduates actually believe that they are right not to hire them, the やる気ない is a fact, and such people shouldn’t be in the company. It’s not that they follow the system without thinking about it; it’s plain obvious to them. Again the thing that bright and competent バイト people could be 30 years earning the same salary and being denied any possibility of ascending in the company, well, why think about it? screw them, it’s their fault, they should have followed the rules as I did, etc.etc.

    Of course sometimes someone will have a hunch that something should be change for the better, but then as marxy says the fear of punishment/failure is enormous, and he doesn’t have any principles or background to justify his thinking. So he just dismisses it and goes along with ‘the system’.

    Kafka’s writing effect was stattering because people reading it thought about it. Deeply. Murakami Haruki likes to think of himself as a new Kafka but people reading it don’t feel anything special besides that he’s quite a freak.

  19. alin Says:

    whether there is a japanese kafka or not and whether japanese people would be capable to generate the lofty thought-process required to comprehend the guy is beside the point what i’m saying is more or less that japanese society has that acceleration/intensification mechanism (of change) pretty much built in so yes i think you’re right saying “Change is kind of unthinkable.”

    on a tangent i was just reading earlier through this book やくざと日本人 and the guy rather eloquently, sort of sensibly putting the horse before the cart, shows how the power dynamics and hierarchies in the yakuza have nothing to do with some relic of feudalism and everything with the logistics and pragmatics of the here and now.

  20. marxy Says:

    Sure, the yakuza now are a protector of the dominant political, spiritual, and economic order and there was no “yakuza” in the same way until after the war, right? That being said, if you de-feudalized the economy and went straight free-market, they would probably start to disappear in the economic sphere. They don’t make good products and the only reason they succeed is that they have the extralegal leverage neccesary to make sure there is no free choice in suppliers. A real democracy also in theory would not tolerate their political terrorism. For example, if one yakuza/uyoku member burns down a politician’s house, maybe someone would considering disbanding the person’s organization. But terrorism in defense of the state is not terrorism, of course.

  21. lacadutadegiganti Says:

    “authorities of some kind: yes but in this same world there’s a different layer where you’d want an ‘authority of some kind’ to make some sort of hierarchy. (ie. design festa). Now i somehow don’t think a hegelian synthesis between what appears to you as iron fist authority and anarchy is the answer for japan, the two are rather the same.”

    Your ideas are intriguing. How do I sign up for your newsletter?

    Also, do you publish an English version?

  22. alin Says:

    sorry mate this is the english version.

    it seems to me that everyone here already has a perfect understanding of japan and its ails as well as the remedies for it – an ‘if only…’ kind of thing.
    what’s bizarre, speaking of change, is that it’s the same as neomarxisme 2 years ago, and hardly different to comrade Perry’s understanding for that matter.

  23. dzima Says:

    it’s the same as neomarxisme 2 years ago

    One thing I never understood about Marxy is the fact that he’s very iconoclastic about Japan but when it comes to America he’s the complete opposite – i.e., giving his full support to Pitchforkmedia (top-bottom opinion making) or endorsing the American tertiary education system (the most expensive and elitist in the world).

  24. lacadutadegiganti Says:

    “comrade Perry”

    Who knew?!

    (Well, this IS neomarxisme)

  25. marxy Says:

    Good conspiracy theory to start: the giant corporations that started Pitchfork back in the 70s also paid for my tuition.

  26. marxy Says:

    it seems to me that everyone here already has a perfect understanding of japan and its ails as well as the remedies for it

    A better criticism of me is that I usually pick at some pretty low-lying fruit. Would anyone agree that it’s good that Japan has a giant organized crime infrastructure with its own paramilitary armies?

  27. alin Says:

    it wasn’t a criticism of you but of the univocal hoot following your stab at the low lying bonsai fruit.

    “Japan has a giant organized crime infrastructure” might as well become “Japan is a giant organized crime infrastructure” since neither counter-activities are ever referred to nor a sympathetic attempt to understand ‘the system’ is ever made.

  28. marxy Says:

    Fine, my anti-yakuza stance is political and not academic.

  29. alin Says:

    so is the yakuza then an external enemy corrupting every branch of society or is it this society’s purest crystalisation ?
    or is it , like the taliban, like the US extreme right, maybe like your’s or debido’s position here, a carricature of certain ‘national’ features gone to the level of carricature, maybe perversion, largely due to external, ‘other’-related circumstances and pressures ?
    or what if it ? one must understand one’s political enemy. what is it that makes the yakuza? and what makes the yakuza and not, say, the family or ‘design’ this country’s public enemy number one ?

  30. alin Says:

    since i seem to have put everyone off here i should elaborate a bit on my own thoughts.

    change: nothing changes vs. everything changes too fast and the difficulty of criticizing (in) japan.

    as a certain pattern changes , so does the (meta) frame of reference in which it can be enclosed, by which it can be criticized. ie. the ground itself is always shifting; metaphysical bootstraping etc. a concrete example is language itself where new words/concepts are constantly invented as new issues arise. in real time. ie. parasite single, single mother, niito etc etc, all concepts that could be expressed in ‘grounded’, tree-like language. but japan(ese language) is rhyzomic right through. in order to criticize japan one has to , a la marxy, impose an external framework.

    basically ANY concept of ‘hierarchy’ is as robust as those hundreds year old pine trees bandaged and propped in all sorts of ways one sees around certain temples and directly criticizing it basically is like barking up the wrong tree.